I wrote this August, 2001 for my Contemporary Lit class. It's not great but if you're gonna use it at least give me a holler back.
THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN CUCKOO’S NEST
Interprative essay on Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
In Ken Kesey’s gripping novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, at one point Harding said that the men on the ward as well as all the men in the world are “victims of a matriarchy.” The novel had only one single main influence of women, the Big Nurse, who is portrayed as a controlling and manipulative woman who would do anything to make things run smoothly her way. But even with just one major inference of woman in the book we can also conclude
some other traits women exhibit with a few other.
Sandy and Candy are two of the women in the novel and they happen to treat the mentally unstable men very nicely. That behavior, however, only enforce the idea that inherently they're not women at all and more rather just a product of the man's ideals. They're both prostitutes who are willing to succumb to man's desire for the right price and for their work they both never much speak out against the men and will do anything for them. In fact they are helpless otherwise in dealing with men, this apparent when at the docks Candy was harassed by other man, without the help of ward patients she essentially becomes nothings and helpless.
Other women in the book are not as weak. Nurse Ratched is the most important in the novel simply as that she was an opportunist. When a chance popped up she willingly took it and use it until it’s squeezed dry. Miss Ratched not only took advantage of her high position in the ward to not only maintain her power but also disregarded her morals and ethics by abusing the men to bend them to conform to her. Kesey obviously feels that women who are in position of power are this way, either they achieve status via this methodology or else they inflict malice attempts for continuance of their reign. With the novel set in a mental hospital with an all male ward filled with unstable, vulnerable and weak men, Nurse Ratched managed to wrestle complete control with little resistance, contrary to an outside society dominated by men. Without other strong men to dominate over her, Nurse Ratched obviously revels in her powers over the men locked inside the walls and she constantly attempts to embarrass or belittle the men by referring to their sexuality and making them feel inferior. Their loss of not only masculinity and humanity only gushed more strength into her instead.
Although Nurse Ratched is the main female character in the novel, she is not the only one that takes advantage of her position to gain power. Similar statements could be said of Billy Bibbit’s mother and Mrs. Harding, who take advantage of the instability of, respectively, their son and husband. Kesey suggest that women like these would not be able to obtain a lot of power had they not been associated with weak and unstable men.
And much like the Big Nurse would not have had that kind of power in the real world while Bibbit’s mother couldn’t have institutionalized her son if he had the capacity to realize his freedom. Bibbit’s mother constantly tells Bibbit that he can put off his life so he can pretend to be a child forever. Bibbit never went to college and never actually had a girlfriend, all of these things insisted his mother could be had when he was older. This led to the frustration Bibbit faces and in the end, so overly abused from this Bibbit resorts to acting like a child day in and day out. Likewise Harding’s wife manages to feed upon his frailty and lack of masculinity to obtain, to her, a comforting sense of triumph. Had she been married to any other man she wouldn’t have been able to derive pleasure from this. Harding’s wife mocks Harding and even goes as far as sneaking into the ward during non-visiting hours to continue her verbal assaults.
What is implied here is that women are constantly trying to find their places in society and will go to extreme measures to obtain a powerful one. But even without having to conquer the hierarchy of domination there are still women in the book that instead choose to exploit their femininity to maintain existence. Kesey equates these women to be good contrary to the manipulative evil women. Candy, Sandy, and Miss Pilbow are three women have made an impression while not having to be conniving but they made little impact.
In conclusion while the book has perhaps played heavily on stereotyping women, it is still nonetheless an introspective look at women and the role they play when their entire livelihood is turned upside down. Will they turn evil by being conniving and deceptive just to maintain power? Or will they instead still be the sweet and charming women that they are? What Kesey is trying to say in the end is that women would not have to go to extreme measures to obtain a powerful position like Nurse Ratched, more rather they can work towards it like men do in society.